Phil Sheridan | Kolb's debut neither daring nor damning

Posted: August 14, 2007

BALTIMORE - Twenty-two years and one day earlier, the second-round quarterback had everyone talking.

The tall, skinny kid from UNLV made his preseason debut against the New York Jets, unveiling the spider-legged running style that made Randall Cunningham an instant sensation. In just over one quarter of work, No. 12 broke off runs of 28, 25, 14 and 12 yards. Of course, he also completed just 3 of 6 passes for 39 yards.

Eight years and one day earlier, the No. 2 pick in the entire NFL draft made his preseason debut for the Eagles. The opponent: the Baltimore Ravens. Donovan McNabb had missed a chunk of training camp while negotiating his rookie contract, and it showed. No. 5 completed just five passes for 35 yards and threw an interception. Fortunately for McNabb, unbeloved starter Doug Pederson absorbed the booing at Veterans Stadium.

Now comes Kevin Kolb, and it is fitting that he made his first appearance on the near anniversary of Cunningham's and McNabb's, and against those same Ravens. Kolb is, after them, just the third quarterback in more than 40 years to be selected high in the draft by the Eagles with the idea of grooming a franchise-type player.

There were signs of the player Cunningham would become in his first preseason game. There was little to be learned from McNabb's, except that he was in the early stages of learning a complex offense. Time will tell whether Kolb's relatively uneventful performance in a 29-3 loss will be looked back upon as foreshadowing - or merely forgotten.

"The majority of what I saw was pretty good," coach Andy Reid said of his rookie. "There were some things he has to work on. That's a team that likes to blitz."

Kolb was sacked twice and hit several other times by blitzing Ravens. He completed 11 of 20 passes for 77 yards.

"My job is to get the ball out, regardless," Kolb said. "[The coaches] gave me a chance to make some quick throws. I did some stuff all right. I need to slow things down at the line and take a better look at the defense. It's my responsibility to get the ball out quicker."

Kolb's development is intriguing. He is getting the same education as McNabb, so presumably the learning curve should be about the same, maybe even shorter. So the common wisdom that A.J. Feeley would automatically step in if McNabb gets hurt again may not be so cut-and-dried.

Look at Reid's tutelage of McNabb in 1999. Reid signed Pederson to run the offense until the rookie was ready. By December, McNabb was in the starting lineup.

That was Reid's first, building-block season. This is a team with playoff expectations, which changes the equation. But if Kolb is as quick a study as advertised, he could be the best option by November or December if McNabb is injured. History shows that Reid will go with what he believes is the best option, no matter what anyone else says or thinks.

So Kolb is more than just a preseason curiosity who will vanish from sight when the games start to count. His development really could affect the Eagles this season.

Cunningham admitted after his first game that all the running wasn't necessarily a good thing. He was having trouble recognizing blitzes in his first live NFL action and responded by taking off and running for his life.

Kolb did a little of that, too, only he ran in the opposite direction. He was hit on his first two plays from scrimmage. The first was flagged as a penalty for roughing the passer, but that was offset by an Eagles penalty. On the do-over, Ravens safety Gerome Sapp came free on a blitz. He chased Kolb toward the Eagles' goal line, tripping him up for a 16-yard loss.

That was the last play of the first half, so Kolb had a chance to gather his thoughts before his first full series.

Kolb's second half was a mixed bag. He had an inexperienced offensive line in front of him and some young receivers to throw to. He showed flashes, hooking up with wide receivers Jason Avant and Jeremy Bloom and tight end Brent Celek. He took some shots, as the Ravens threw a few blitzes his way. He saw drives stall because of a fumbled exchange with rookie back Nate Ilaoa and a fumble lost after a catch by Jermaine Jamison.

"We turned the ball over," Kolb said. "We made mistakes. You don't have the coaches standing there like that at practice. You're on your own, and when you make a mistake, it's on you. But that's a good thing."

As debuts go, it was closer to the ahem of McNabb's than the aha of Cunningham's. Either way, that's not bad company.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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